London images and shopping bag capitalism

4 mins read

Didn’t they say the early bird eats the choice worm? It was Black Friday in England last week and the frenetic pace of life literally blew away the cold weather. Black Friday used to be an American phenomenon, and was usually tied to the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Well, last year, the British took to it, as is their wont, to copy things American. The media said it was expected that over half a billion pounds of sales were to be made that day and even more in the weekend up to Sunday. I think the capitalist system must be one of the most ingenious inventions of mankind. The adaptability of the system and its virility combines with an incredible ability to renew itself.

Capitalism uses many lethal instruments to keep alive, including the manipulation of people into insatiable consumers, thanks to a deluge of glitzy advertisements and the construction of a craving to keep acquiring material goods. I saw an advertisement a few years ago, which sums up the ethos of the individual in contemporary capitalist society.

Rene Descartes’ statement: ‘COGITO ERGO SUM(I think, therefore, I am)’ was rendered as ‘I buy, so I am’! And I think that is truly a correct reading of the contemporary man in the post-modern settings of capitalism; the CITIZEN, who was central to the construction of the liberties associated with the emergence of bourgeois liberal democracy has finally metamorphosed into the CONSUMER of post-modern, neoliberal capitalism. The way people are whipped into a buying and consumption frenzy was so clear to see on Black Friday.

I spent many hours on the famous shopping boulevards of Oxford and Regent Streets, watching and clocking very decent kilometers and burning off some of the excess calories that I must have piled up after a four-week holiday.

The consumer culture and the urge to buy are summed up in those carrier bags of the many high street shops that they purchase their goods. It is the age of glitzy shopping bag capitalism and interestingly, Nigerian consumers have a particular love for those bags too, as they shop in London, Dubai or New York. We are also denizens of the shopping bag craze of contemporary capitalism!

London is the last stop of my holiday and it is where I have spent the longest number of days; eleven. As I wrote previously, in this holiday series, there were many things that I fell in love with in the United States. But there are many more things about England and especially London’s over eight million inhabitants that I have always admired.

There is a civility about the British and a general orderliness and reserve that I respect a lot. I think that the British space helped the flowering of multiculturalism even before the definition itself found a popular usage.

There seemed to always readily build a crowd around a cause, project or product and often these would be leading themselves on the streets accompanied by the British police, with a general degree of tolerance, indifference or acceptance by the British public. And from a personal standpoint there is the fact that London allows me to walk a great deal so each time I am in town, I take full advantage.

The APP on my phone counts the number of steps that I take, sums it up in kilometres covered as well as calories burnt; so given the amount of food I have consumed in the four locations that I visited over the month, the walk around London was one that I looked forward to. London allows me to reflect upon the poor social culture of elite life in Nigeria. We live in air-conditioned houses; move around in air-conditioned cars and work in air-conditioned offices!

The sedentary habit is compounded by the increasingly processed, low quality food that we eat in our country, reflecting the acquired Western taste of our ruling and middle classes. Not surprisingly, cancers have become very widespread killers in Nigeria and around Africa! The Kenyan writer, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o was right when he reminded Africans that a borrowed necklace makes you lose your own!

One of my favourite preoccupations here in London is to visit bookshops. Mal. Abba Kyari is usually my partner; an incurable booklover and voracious reader too, Mal. Abba knows how and where to get books. The reading culture has suffered greatly in the age of modern media, the internet and mobile telephony, but there has remained a very big market for book publishing, worldwide.

I have not sufficiently accepted all the arguments for electronic books; so buying and holding books the old way is still my preferred format. It is related to my addiction to the real as opposed to the online editions of newspapers! The fact that I always buy a huge amount of books explains why my luggage allowance from the airlines often borders on the very precarious.

I have bought books in Dubai, California, Texas and now London. It means that I will be in trouble with the airline and when I eventually arrived at Heathrow Airport on Monday night, I had a lot of excess to pay for! I have, fortunately, kept my column running over the past four weeks, because it was obvious that I could not escape from events shaping life back at home. On Friday, the tragic bombings at the Kano Juma’at Mosque was the main story from Nigeria. We were frantically working the phones and checking online news sites for updates. Honestly, I don’t envy Nigerians who reside abroad, given how much I have missed the texture of daily living in our very troubled country.

I wonder all the time just how difficult it must be to feel a deep sense of connection with one’s fatherland and yet be forced by circumstance to live away from it. The passions of anger, rejection, love, hatred, unfulfilled hopes and longing to be home suffuse many of the pieces that Nigerians living abroad post on the numerous websites dedicated to the Nigerian condition. Being out of Nigeria allowed me to re-evaluate my feelings about our beautiful country. The love I feel for it; my lived experiences and upbringing and the social and political education that I received as a member of a generation that saw a country which worked, have driven my passion for the liberation and development of Nigeria.

I write because I believe that another country is possible. My travel in the past month has even deepened the love I have for our country. We are going through one of the most tragic phases of our history and the indices of life are very depressing, but my own experience of Nigeria has made me the incurable optimist and romantic that I am, about Nigeria’s future.

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